If possible, buy fish within 24 hours of when you plan to cook it, and no longer than 48 hours before cooking, and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator (or freeze for up to a month). If buying sooner, unwrap the fish so it doesn't sit in its juices, which can be a rich breeding ground for bacteria. Restaurants store large fish on ice in a perforated pan.
Unless you know they're superfresh, purchase perishable clams and mussels no more than 36 hours before you plan to cook them. As soon as you get home, remove all the wrapping and place the shellfish in a clean, dry bowl. Dampen a paper towel and cover the mollusks, turning up a corner to give them a little air. Refrigerate until just before cleaning and cooking them. Squid, scallops, and shrimp are particularly perishable. Don't buy them sooner than the day before you plan to cook them. Keep in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
The fibrous tuft you see on some mussel shells is called a beard. It is what the mollusk creates for grabbing onto pilings or rocks. Pull off these beards, if present, from the edge of each mussel before scrubbing. (Farmed mussels usually don't have beards because of how they are raised.) A round, thin rubber disk used to open jars provides perfect tension for pulling off stubborn beards. Scrub the shells of clams and mussels with a stiff brush, ridding them of any sand.
Chefs use a guideline of 8 to 9 minutes per inch of thickness if fish is at room temperature (68 degrees F) before cooking. Bringing fish to room temperature before cooking is critical for even cooking. If fish is just out of the refrigerator, estimate 10 minutes of cooking time per inch.
Rather than using a thermometer to gauge doneness in fish, calculate 8 minutes of total cooking time per inch of thickness, then stick the tip of a paring knife into the densest part of the fish. If the knife doesn't penetrate with ease, cook the fish longer and continue checking at 1-minute intervals.
Sushi-grade fish such as ahi tuna is sometimes seared, or cooked on the surface only, then served raw in the center.
Many people prefer to eat impeccably fresh salmon on the rare side, about 115 degrees F internal temperature.
Always consider the health and safety of the people you cook for and err on the side of caution, particularly when cooking for young children, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly.
The generally accepted (for healthy adults) range of internal doneness temperatures for fish is between 120 and 135 degrees F. Non-oily fish such as albacore tuna and halibut should be cooked to the lower end of this range to preserve succulence. Swordfish and other firm but oily fish can withstand temperatures at the higher end of this range.
Cooking School Secrets for Real-World Cooks
Tips, Techniques, Shortcuts, Sources, Hints, and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, Plus 100 Sure-Fire Recipes to Make You a Better Cook
by Linda Carucci
Paperback; 392 pages; $22.95
Excerpt reprinted by permission.
This page created February 2006
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